Knesset MKs in Final Push to Pass Spending

Voter-friendly draft laws would cost billions of shekels a year if approved.

The Knesset is facing an onslaught of legislative initiatives with big price tags in the last few days before its anticipated dissolution. In the plenum and the various committees, MKs are trying to expedite private bills whose combined funding comes to several billion shekels a year.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to convene tomorrow to deliberate on dozens of other private members' bills with similar budgets. Coalition MKs are pressuring the treasury to ask the Knesset Finance Committee to request changes to the state budget and approve tens of millions of shekels in new allocations to their preferred targets.

David Rotem - Tess Scheflan - May 6, 2012
Tess Scheflan

Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, are determined to pass new government spending bills within the next few days and during the preelection recess. Some of these draft laws are matters of contention between ministries, such as the so-called water bill that Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau hopes to get passed in a first reading, despite the treasury's opposition to the draft law.

Any bill that is passed in first reading before the current Knesset session is dissolved can be taken up again by the new, post-election parliament without having to repeat all three readings. That is a mighty powerful incentive for pushing through bills in the waning days of this Knesset.

Incentives for settlement

One of the most controversial pieces of pending legislation is a private member's bill rewarding organizations that encourage settlements. The Knesset House Committee is under fierce pressure to approve the bill for a second and third reading before the Knesset is dissolved.

The bill, which was submitted by coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin and MK Zion Pinyan, both from Likud, set off a political firestorm when opposition MKs argued that its purpose was to encourage Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The bill would provide tax benefits for organizations that encourage the establishment of new communities or increase the number of residents in existing ones.

Among the dozens of bills the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will be asked to hear are several the cabinet would be hard-pressed to defeat if they were put to a vote on Wednesday. These bills would include:

1. Mandate national service for anyone who does not do military service: MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) and Einat Wilf (Atzmaut ) have submitted separate bills; more than NIS 2 billion.

2. Increase salaries of soldiers during mandatory service: Submitted by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ); about NIS 1.3 billion a year.

3. Set aside 5% of building starts on state land for public housing: Submitted by MK David Azoulay (Shas ), on the recommendation of Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas ); NIS 1.5 billion a year.

4. Permit penalty-freewithdrawals from provident funds: Would allow account holders to withdraw provident gemel fund savings prior to 15-year term without tax penalties. Submitted by MKs Haim Katz (Likud ) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ), among others.

5. Pay benefits to women who extend their mandatory military service to three years: Submitted by Hasson; more than NIS 200 million a year.

6. Update state-subsidized "basket of health services" by 2% of total cost, for advanced technologies: Submitted by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) and others; about NIS 300 million for the first year, NIS 600 million for the second, and so forth.

7. Give priority to Israeli-made boots in military tenders: Submitted by MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ), at an estimated cost of a few million shekels a year but with horizontal projections into the tens and hundreds of millions of shekels.